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Council splits on merits of allowing apartment proposal to grow into existing building

New design will require demolition of home built by a former Rochester mayor

Citywalk rendering 2.jpg
A rendering of the proposed Citywalk Apartments.
Provided by city of Rochester
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ROCHESTER — A plan to enlarge the footprint of a proposed Second Street Southwest apartment building by demolishing a smaller apartment building that was once a former mayor’s home eked out a narrow approval Monday.

The Rochester City Council split 4-3 to allow a developer to change plans for a proposed seven-story 131-unit building and shift to a six-story 142-unit structure.

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“The core designs and aesthetics remain largely unchanged for the additional design,” said Logen Jossem of Widseth Smith Nolting & Associates Inc., who represented the developer of the project dubbed Citywalk Apartments.

The original 131-unit plan for the project at the intersection of Second Street and Sixth Avenue Southwest was approved in January, but a revision was submitted following a purchase agreement for additional property.

The proposed purchase is for a 10-unit apartment building at 219 Sixth Ave. SW, which is owned and operated by Noser Holdings. Owner Britt Noser has said he was conflicted about plans to sell the building to Wayzata-based 988 Rochester LLC, but he added accepting the offer was best for his family.

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The former boarding house built by Martin Heffron sits at 219 Sixth Ave. SW.
Randy Petersen/ Post Bulletin

The small apartment building was originally constructed in 1917 by former Rochester Mayor Martin Heffron, who reportedly used it as his home and a boarding house for Mayo Clinic doctors and staff.

On Monday, concerns about the destruction of a nearby 10-unit apartment building were raised by Rochester residents, including one of the existing tenants.

“It seems like it would be a big shame to lose this piece of history at this point,” said Grace Moores, who said she lives in the building.

Rochester resident Barry Skolnick, who is a member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, recommended the group protect the house last month, but the effort failed to gain enough votes to alter the status of the property.

On Monday, Skolnick was joined by others to stress concerns about the house’s history.

“It is one of the only rooming houses left in that area, which used to have a number of rooming houses,” he said, adding that Heffron played a key role in development of the city.

As a Rochester contractor when the 19th Century gave way to the 20th, Heffron was involved in construction of St. Marys Hospital, including its chapel, and the Chateau Theater, among other local buildings.

“I think historic buildings should be cherished,” added Rochester resident Barb Hudson. “Our history in Rochester is being lost all the time.”

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Some council members agreed with the stance.

“I see this as addition through subtraction, and the minus sign is really, really big,” council member Mark Bransford said, citing a desire to keep the building in place.

Council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said the number of units gained by the proposed footprint expansion fails to be enough to warrant demolishing 10 other apartments, which Skolnick said appear to have affordable rents.

Council member Nick Campion, however, said the arguments fail to take into account that denying the requested design change wouldn’t protect the smaller apartment building.

“There is no protection for that home right now,” he said, adding that no legal requirement exists to preserve the building.

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Buildings at the corner of Second Street and Sixth Avenue Southwest will need to be removed to prepare for construction of the proposed City Walk Apartments.
Randy Petersen/ Post Bulletin

Rochester Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Yetzer also said a denial could serve as a deterrent for the planned apartment complex, since the developer has reportedly indicated the seven-story option is not financially viable.

Council President Brooke Carlson, who was joined by council members Patrick Keane, Shaun Palmer and Campion in supporting the changed design, said it was a continuation of support for creating added housing in the city’s core.

“We were jazzed about the project a couple of months ago, and I continue to be,” she said.

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What happened: The Rochester City Council voted 4-3 to allow design change for a planned Second Street Southwest apartment complex.

Why does this matter: The change to increase the building's footprint will require the demolition of a nearby building that was once home to a former mayor and is considered historically significant to some residents.

What's next: Plans continue to move forward with construction of the revised building.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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